In various games I have had players complain that they should have been able to hit a target. This mostly happened years ago before three quarters of my group were hunters. I don’t get that argument much anymore because hunters know how hard it is to hit their target.
To clarify what I’m talking about, it’s not hard to hit a paper target. Even messing around I can hit a target the size of a tea saucer at seventy yards all day with a shotgun, pistol or rifle. I used to be able to get really good grouping with a bow years ago. That’s not a big challenge.
I want to tell you about four deer in two days of hunting. Yes I hunt. I hunt for food and not for trophies but when I get the chance to shoot at a buck I have to take it because bucks are sneakier than does. Out of the thirty or more animals I’ve harvested I’ve only gotten three or four bucks. I get a buck tag every year but it usually goes unfilled which means wasted money.
Now the reason why I want to tell these stories is to give a GM that doesn’t have experience like this an idea of what it’s like to have someone who has a basic ability to try a somewhat complicated task.
The first deer was a doe, she and her herd came stomping in behind me and all I had to do was wait till I could get the lead doe in my sights. I had time to aim, I was calm. I have the meat in storage now.
The second deer was a buck, a six point if you’re curious. I was crouched on the ground at about 50 yards trying to get a shot between brush and trees. Even a tiny stick can deflect a shotgun slug, it sounds improbable but it’s true. The buck was headed away from me into a field of dense brush, past that, he would be too far for me to hit. I took a pot shot and missed. He turned around, running across my path again, I had enough time to pump and aim for where I knew he would cross. I can only say I have never been able to even graze a deer running through the woods, it’s a waste of bullets. I tried anyway and predictably failed. My wife got him a few minutes later.
The third deer was a spike buck surrounded by five doe. He wasn’t far away but there were a lot of trees in between me and him. There was one opening that I could see his shoulder. The kill zone was right next to one of the trees but I took the shot. I was standing and at the last millisecond before the gun went off, a slight wobble or muscle twitch brought the sights over the edge of the tree. He jumped a little, startled by the sound, I was out of bullets that day and he walked away.
Yesterday, the fourth deer, came traipsing through a field. A big buck, I didn’t count his tines because I thought I had him and I could count them later. I lined up a shot and took it. Now in my defense, this was a long shot, 80-90 yards and that’s a lot for a shotgun. I did hit him. Maybe the rest of this is a commentary on hit point more than skill. He ran for three hundred or more yards through the woods. I had ample signs that it was a good hit. A smaller deer would have dropped within feet of being hit. I tracked him and found where he lay down but he wasn’t dead. He jumped up and trotted off. There was no opportunity to fire again. I tried tracking him from 11 am to 2:30 pm with no sign of him. Then by sheer dumb chance I picked up his trail again five hundred yards away. Then the trail went cold again. I looked until nightfall I’m quite sure he lived through the night and maybe through today.
The point for the GM is that on paper, with dice rolls only, failure can seem unreasonable. It’s when you role play out why things happen as they do, you’re looking to explain to your players that it isn’t all random chance that cause them to fail a roll. The rolls are a simulation of seemingly small events that end up being significant. It isn’t the roll that made them fail, the roll is a simulation of things that made them fail. Either let the player role play out why they failed or you can fill in the blanks for them. If they players learn to role play out their failures the gaming table will be a much more enjoyable experience for everyone.